India Covid-19 fact check: Are more young people falling ill? Are vaccinated

But misinformation has spread in India — and sometimes been accepted as truth. Here’s our fact check of some common myths and misconceptions around India’s second wave.

Doctors in India have anecdotally reported seeing more young people presenting with Covid-19 symptoms.

Government messaging has supported this idea. On April 15, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal released a video, urging young people in particular to take care. “In this wave of coronavirus, the youth are getting infected,” he wrote in a tweet. “I appeal to all the youth to take care of themselves.”

All that has led to a widespread belief the second wave is disproportionately affecting young people.

Fact check: Government statistics show young people are not being any worse hit during the second wave than they were in the first.

During the first wave, about 31% of patients were aged below 30, said V K Paul, the chairman of India’s Covid task force, at a press conference on April 19. During the second wave, that figure has only increased marginally to 32%.

Around 21% of patients were between 30 and 45 during the first wave — that proportion hasn’t changed during the second wave, according to government statistics.

It’s a similar situation when it comes to deaths. Last year, 20% of deaths were people aged 50 or younger. This time, it’s 19%.

Health workers attend to patients inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 ward in New Delhi, India, on May 1.

“There is no overarching excess risk of young people becoming Covid positive,” Paul said. “We don’t see a shift in the age prevalence of Covid-19 disease overall in the country.”

Dr. Chandrasekhar Singha, a senior lead consultant in pediatric critical care at Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital in New Delhi, said he is seeing more children infected during the second wave than the first. But, he said, it was possible that the second wave had the same proportion of child Covid patients — the difference this time could be that the overall totals are far greater.

He urged parents not to panic if their children test positive — as long as they are not overweight and have no underlying respiratory problem, most children don’t need any oxygen therapy or hospital admission, he said.

Some context: India has a relatively young population compared with other countries, with a median age of 28 compared to 38 in the US and 40 in the UK, according to CIA World Factbook. The experience in other countries is that younger people are more mobile and are therefore are more likely to spread the virus.

Some variants found in India, including the UK strain or B.1.1.7, are also more transmissible, meaning they’re easier to pass on. The UK variant, first identified in September 2020, is now more dominant than the Indian variant in Delhi and north India.

Are fully vaccinated healthcare workers being infected?

No vaccine in the world will prevent infections in every individual, but local media has reported that some doctors working in hospitals have tested positive after being fully vaccinated.

That has raised public concern that India’s vaccines might not be as effective against the new variant that was identified in late March, as the second wave accelerated.

Fact check: Again, the statistics don’t bear that out.

Of the 1.7 million people fully vaccinated with India’s homegrown Covaxin vaccine, 695 have tested positive for Covid, said the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in April. That equates to 0.04%.

Of the 15 million people who received both doses of Covishield — the Indian manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine — 5,014 people have tested positive, or 0.03%.

Until Saturday, India had only rolled out its vaccine to frontline workers and the most vulnerable.

“Those who were tested positive after receiving the doses were mostly frontline workers and healthcare workers. This category was the first to be vaccinated, and they are prone to more occupational exposure,” Dr Balram Bhargava, secretary of department of health research and director-general of ICMR, told reporters in April, according to local media reports.

Are new variants behind the second wave?

On March 24, the Indian Ministry of Health revealed in a news release that “VOCs (variants of concern) and a new double mutant variant have been found in India.”

Fears quickly grew that the new variant, called B.1.617, might be why the second wave has hit the country so much harder and faster than the first. One of the biggest concerns was whether the variant might be able to bypass the vaccines being rolled out nationwide.

Fact check: Scientists are still researching the new variant, and there is not enough information to determine whether it is driving the surge in cases.

For that, the country would need much greater genomic surveillance. Experts believe a country needs to conduct genetic sequencing for 5-10% of all Covid test samples to assess how much variant activity is taking place. India has sequenced less than 1% of its cases, according to Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Some Indian epidemiologists have…

Read More: India Covid-19 fact check: Are more young people falling ill? Are vaccinated

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